Snowboarder Will McLean snagged a free breakfast burrito in the minutes before Eldora opened for the year.
The Denverite posed for a picture, breakfast burrito in hand, before getting into the lift line. He thought the 41 inches of snow that have already fallen at the mountain west of Nederland and the resort's early open, its earliest in more than two decades, signaled an exciting season to come.
"It's been dumping," McLean said. "It's going to be the best season of a decade. We want to do it. We want to get out here."
McLean was one of dozens of early birds who congregated at the Aspenglow lift before it began carrying skiers and snowboarders up the hill at 9 a.m. When a man on a loudspeaker announced that Eldora was officially open, the crowd cheered. As they boarded the lift, they rang a large bell and continued to cheer.
Snow revelers and Eldora officials are optimistic about the season ahead, and Nederland leaders are optimistic about the improving relationship between the town and the ski resort, which came under new ownership by Powdr Corp. two years ago.
"I've heard nothing but good things from people," Nederland Mayor Kristopher Larsen said.
Nederland leaders said Eldora general manager Brent Tregaskis and Powdr Corp. have increased communication and coordination with the town.
Just this week, at a Nederland Board of Trustees meeting, they set a target to achieve 100 percent electric energy consumption from renewable sources by 2025, in alignment with the town's goals.
"They've joined with the town of Nederland on our goal of being 100 percent renewable on our electrical grid by 2025," Larsen said. "... If we don't get off of fossil fuels by now, really, then we're not going to have skiing in 10, 15, 20 years."
Larsen and Nederland Town Marshal Larry Johns both said it was refreshing to see Eldora leaders at town meetings, in contrast with the resort's last owners.
"They didn't give the impression that they wanted to be a part of the town," Larsen said. "They had no interest in involving themselves. ... That's been a 180-degree change."
The remaining sticking point for locals, though, is the traffic that courses through town to the resort and becomes especially congested on peak weekends and holidays.
"Short of standing out and directing traffic, there's not a lot you can do because you have such an influx of cars between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., roughly, they've just got to move through," Johns said.
However, the town is eyeing a traffic study to collect data about the traffic and identify possible solutions. This year, too, the resort introduced 200 priority parking spots for carpoolers, and resort officials are seeking county approval to significantly expand the parking lot next summer. They also are encouraging skiers to take the bus.
Tregaskis said the resort hopes to reduce its carbon footprint.
"That combined with the fact that we run out of parking on peak weekends in January, February and even into March, we know we need to continue to do more to get people to carpool," he said.
Enjoying the snow
At the top of the Alpenglow lift early Wednesday morning, Baird Morrish adjusted his boots before taking off down the La Belle run with his daughter, Socia, who is a senior at Boulder High School.
The pair, from Nederland, missed work and school, respectively, to enjoy the snow together.
"It's an early opening," Baird Morrish said. "It just feels like it's going to be a banner year."
Added Socia Morrish: "It's intriguing. It's the new Eldora."
They said they've enjoyed the improvements to the resort in recent years, as well as the improved relationship with the town.
"They treat it like a bigger hill, with some of the functions and fun things that are going on," Baird Morrish said. " ... I also thinks it's an easy bar to jump over, compared to where it was before."
Later in the morning, David Hocker from Estes Park helped his children, J.R., 10, and Clara, 8, tighten their boots and clip into their skis before their first run of the day.
He didn't hesitate to bring them skiing, he said, as they'd been eyeing the opening day for a while and had been itching to ski all summer.
"It's pretty exciting," he said. "Fresh snow, blue sky. We're ready to hit it."
Clara Hocker said she felt good about being on the slopes.
"It's our first time this year skiing," she said.
"I'm excited to start the ski season," J.R. Hocker added.
At the top of the mountain, Courtney Hedrick, a Longmont resident, paused between runs. The pharmacist at Longmont United Hospital had the day off and decided to come to Eldora solo after inviting friends who couldn't get the time off work. Wednesday was her first ski day of the season.
"It's been fun so far," she said. "This is really good for Eldora this early in the season. After last season, which wasn't so great, I'm hoping we're on a good roll for the rest of the season."
Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, email@example.com